Comparative Thinking in Physical Education

Comparative Thinking in Physical Education

My grade two students are currently exploring different skills in our Locomotor Unit. This unit is built around the following outcomes from SHAPE America’s National Standards and Grade-Level Outcomes document:

Based on the evidence of learning that I determined would inform me that my students had met those outcomes, I used my new Learning Roadmap template (learn more about that here) to design the following rubric:

As I thought about the assessment tools I wanted to design to help gather evidence of my students’ learning, I got curious about how I could get my students to showcase that they can differentiate between jogging and sprinting.

Compare & Contrast

During one of last year’s professional development sessions at my school, we watched an EL Education video that showed how a classroom teacher used a compare & contrast assessment tool to see if her students could use comparative thinking to identify similarities and differences between two texts.

I wasn’t able to find that video online, but here is another example of this assessment method being used in the classroom:

You might also be interested in reading this sample chapter from Harvey F. Silver’s book “Compare & Contrast: Teaching comparative thinking to strengthen student learning”. In it, you’ll find other examples of compare and contrast activities as well as some of the student benefits of this assessment method.

Breaking Down Running

At the start of the year, I introduce my students to the “How We Learn” poster that I designed for my program. The poster showcases the steps we use to learn the different skills that we explore in class.

You can download the How We Learn Poster in the #PhysEd Shop!

At the start of this unit, we’ll use this process to break down running and its critical elements. To help the students see what running with a mature pattern looks like and to help them visualize the critical elements of the skill, we’ll use the Running Poster from the FMS Locomotor Skill Posters series.

Running will serve as the central skill of the comparative thinking exercise that happens next.

Walking, Jogging, Running, & Sprinting

With the examples of a compare and contrast tool in mind, I started to wonder what a comparative thinking assessment could look like in PE. Seeing that my students had explored jogging in grade one and were now taking a look at running and sprinting, I decided to make a visual that compared the differences between those three skills (as well as walking):

You can download the Moving On My Feet Poster in the #PhysEd Shop!

The poster was designed to reference some of the movement concepts we had also explored in class. These include levels, speed, and force.

Before showing the visual to my students, I wanted them to experience the differences between each skill. To help them do so, I came up with this fun way of utilizing the BaM Video Delay app:

Here’s a bird’s eye view of my gym:

In the bottom right corner of this view, you’ll see that I have a TV setup on the wall (learn more about my TV setup). This TV is connected to an Apple TV, which allows me to mirror my iPad to the television’s screen via AirPlay.

For this activity, I set my iPad up on my tripod (equipped with an iPad mount) and threw on a wide-angle lens to that the iPad’s camera could capture as much as the screen as possible. Here’s a tweet that showcases that setup a bit:

I’ll place the iPad/tripod setup in the centre of the gym and launch the BaM Video Delay app.

If you’re unfamiliar with the app, BaM Video Delay allows you to display a delayed video. The video delay can be easily set within the app. What’s nice is that the video doesn’t get recorded on your iPad: the playback is simply delayed. This prevents the app from recording massive video files that would swamp your iPad’s storage.

With the iPad setup, I’ll have my grade two students get into their squad lines, which I’ll set up on the right-hand side of the gym.

To start off, I’ll set the video delay to 12 seconds (which I’ll share with the students as “12 LOOOOONG seconds”). On the signal, students will attempt to take the full 12 seconds to move to their relay cone and back before handing off the relay baton (usually a beanbag or foamie) to the next person in their line. By the time each student gets back in line, they will be able to see themselves moving on the TV thanks to BaM Video Delay’s delayed video playback. I will invite students to pay attention to the details of how they move throughout this round (e.g. body position, speed, level, etc.)

 

After each kid has had a few turns making it on the big screen, I’ll lead a class discussion with the students in which I’ll invite them to reflect on the characteristics of their movement that round:

  1. “What can you say about the speed of your movement?”
  2. “How would you describe your body’s position as you moved?”
  3. “How were your knees and hands moving?”
  4. “What would you call the skill you we’re using this round?”

Following our reflection discussion, I will go back to the app and set the delay to eight seconds. I’ll let the students know that they will have to move a little faster now if they want to catch themselves on the big screen.

Following this round, I’ll lead the same kind of discussion with my students. This time, we will also reflect on how and why our movement changed once we had to start moving a little faster. At this point, the class will usually come to the understanding that walking was too slow of a skill to use to get across the gym in eight seconds, so jogging (which they may refer to as slow running) was required.

After the discussion, I will go back to the app and set the delay to four seconds. I’ll let the students know that they will have to move even faster now if they want to catch themselves on the big screen.

 

We’ll go through the same process as we did in the previous rounds before moving into the final round in which I’ll set the video delay to two seconds.

The objective with this video delay-powered relay activity is to help students visualize and understand that the way they run changes depending on the speed at which they need to run. Although a lot of kids group all running speeds into a single skill (“running”), the skill actually really changes at each speed:

  • 🐢 Slow running becomes jogging
  • 🐇 Fast running becomes sprinting

If you really want to blow your kids’ minds, use an app like Coach’s Eye to analyze the differences between the walking they do in round one (with the 12 second delay) and the jogging / running / sprinting they do in the subsequent rounds. My students couldn’t believe that there is a period of flight (i.e. a moment when both feet are off the ground) once you start running!

After the relay activity in which students got to experience, visualize, and reflect on the difference between walking, jogging, running, and sprinting, I will then invite each squad to complete the “Moving On My Feet” puzzle so that they can contrast each skill!

Moving On My Feet Puzzle

Based on the visual I created to showcase the similarities/differences between the four skills we explored, I made a small puzzle that includes the following pieces:

You can download the Moving On My Feet Puzzle in the #PhysEd Shop!

The puzzle involved four categories of pieces, with each category having four of its own pieces:

🏃🏼‍♀️ Skills

🐎 Speed

📊 Level

⚡️ Force

Once a squad had laid out the skill pieces, they then had to match a card from each category to one of the four skills (the puzzle version you see in this tweet was an earlier version… I redesigned it afterwards).

To do so, students engaged in awesome comparative thinking discussions with their squad-mates. It was really cool to hear their arguments and suggestions as they worked together to sort the cards! In some situations, I would jump in and ask questions in regards to the reasoning behind associating a certain speed, level, or force card to the skills. When I did, I would make sure to call on students rather than ask them to raise their hands so that I could ensure that everyone within the squad was actively engaged in the activity.

Once each squad had completed their puzzle (which I took pictures of for later assessment and to add to my students’ portfolios), I then posted the Moving On My Feet poster which served as a possible answer key to the puzzle activity. Throughout the rest of the unit, I would refer back to the poster as we continued to work on differentiating between jogging and sprinting in physical education.

Conclusion

The activities I just described had a really great impact on my students’ ability to reflect on movement skills from a knowledge (e.g. listing the critical elements of running) and understanding (e.g. differentiating between skills based on how movement concepts are applied in different ways within each skill) level. I’m a firm believer that these cognitive aspects of skill development serve as an important foundation to skill mastery: if you know what the mature pattern looks like and understand how to apply it, then you are in a better position to be able to demonstrate that pattern in your performance. Comparative thinking activities not only helped my students deepen their knowledge and understanding of the skills we were exploring, but they also provided me with insight into where my students were at in regards to those aspects of their learning.

If you’ve used similar activities in your teaching, I would love to hear about them in the comments below! I already have some plans to use this kind of approach in some of my games-based units with my older grades (e.g. my grade six invasion games unit).

If you would like to use the Moving On My Feet poster and puzzle in your teaching, I’ve made it available in the Shop. The FMS Locomotor Skill Posters and Key Cards are available separately in the Shop as well.

Download The Moving On My Feet Resources

Thanks so much for reading! Happy Teaching!

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Joey Feith is the founder of ThePhysicalEducator.com. He currently teaches elementary physical education at St. George’s School of Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

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